Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Yes, Kids: We Are There Now"

Tristero quotes Sara Robinson about the slide into fascism. We're at "stage 3" of the five stages in that slide:
Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we [scholarly experts who track the growth of fascism] were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.
What this quote doesn't say is that there is an element of historical awareness here. You may have noticed that the thugs have been quick to label people who are trying to keep meetings from devolving into fistfights 'thugs' and 'brownshirts'. Why? Because they know damned well that the best insulation is projection. You use their accusation first, so that when they make it, it seems like a reaction to what you said. Sure, their complaint is more valid than yours, but the media has no interest and no skills in discering validity or accuracy.

Hell, they'll muzzle you if you actually do make accurate accusations, because the other side knows who owns you and knows how to lean on them. Nothing Olbermann said about O'Reilley was wrong or inappropriate, but neither "Bill-O" nor his employers could stand the spectacle of a loudmouth who wasn't apologizing for their wealth and power.

Those are the "traditional elites" you see in Robert Paxton's authoritative definition of "fascism", as quoted by Robinson:
"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Community decline? Victimhood? Mass-based party of committed nationalist militants? Sound familiar? Does it bring up Glenn Beck weeping on television about how much he "loves his country" and hates the people who are defiling it? Or the nativism aimed at immigrants? Or the anti-Islamic fervor? It does to me.

Sara points out the "stages" involved in fascism. We saw stage 3 above, the one we're at now. This is stage two, which is just closing up:
In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power....Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.
I slightly disagree with a bit of this; while the mobs are unseemly, they don't strike me as quite like the Brownshirts of old to me. Too old, for one thing. But the rest is spot-on. The alliance between the "center-right" and the absolute crazies has been going on for a while now, but the grievances of the latter have been embraced as the cause of the former, now that they've been largely rejected by the public at large.
Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point us straight at it:
1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.
Stage four is a conflict between the traditional right and the hard right; the shape of the future government depends on who wins. If the tradcoms win, it's a dictatorship, theocracy, or corporatist system; if the crazies win, it's the "f" word.

But we already know who wins that fight, don't we? We've seen it before. Thomas Frank wrote a rather nice book about it, and about how the economic elites get rolled when confronted with the crazier wing. How could they not? The crazies are committed.

And, naturally, stage five is "radicalization". The new regime gets a victory of some kind—usually military—and uses it to start consolidating. The really disturbing social engineering starts. So does the expansion.

Sara goes on:

It's so easy right now to look at the melee on the right and discount it as pure political theater of the most absurdly ridiculous kind. It's a freaking puppet show. These people can't be serious. Sure, they're angry -- but they're also a minority, out of power and reduced to throwing tantrums. Grown-ups need to worry about them about as much as you'd worry about a furious five-year-old threatening to hold her breath until she turned blue.

Unfortunately, all the noise and bluster actually obscures the danger. These people are as serious as a lynch mob, and have already taken the first steps toward becoming one. And they're going to walk taller and louder and prouder now that their bumbling efforts at civil disobedience are being committed with the full sanction and support of the country's most powerful people, who are cynically using them in a last-ditch effort to save their own places of profit and prestige.

We've arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.

How do we pull back? That's my next post.
I await it with baited breath, Sara.

But this is the key take-away here. People are still thinking that this whole thing can be pushed aside by saying "these people are a minority". What they forget is that, for all its bluster about unity, fascism is ultimately driven by a committed minority. The public gets swept up in it, and that's happing right now; but the National Socialists were a tiny joke of a party for most of their existence. They are convinced that the majority has been hoodwinked or perverted in some way, and will only see appeals to majority opinion as a form of oppression and victimization.

Even if this isn't part of some slide towards fascism, remember that. The fact that they're a minority makes them more dangerous. Not less.

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